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Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser Prado - GXL V6 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Massive off-road abilities intact, stronger, safer, roomier, better on-road, tough, durable, reliable, smooth
Room for improvement
Busy ride, V6 petrol/manual combo not ideal, thirsty, ponderous on-road, big turning circle, price rises

31 Mar 2010

THE Prius might be an atypical problem child for Toyota right now, and the firm’s global recall woes sure aren’t pretty, but the Prado – dear old Prado – is the company’s faithful servant that can make any situation seem sunnier for the T brand.

Launched almost 14 years ago in Australia as Toyota’s mid-sized SUV answer to the popular Mitsubishi Pajero, Prado sales simply went berserk as buyers bought into its multi-row seating option, car-like interior and outstanding 4WD capabilities.

Now, 150,000-plus vehicles later and an army of satisfied and loyal customers to rely on, Toyota unleashes the fourth-generation Prado in Australia. And, understandably, the old cliché of something that isn’t broken certainly applies.

Indeed, you need to look hard to spot the many and varied changes that have occurred, and not all are welcome as we shall see, but we’ll save your eyesight by pointing out the obvious ones. Just keep in mind that evolution is the word.

On the plus side, the 150 Series Prado is bigger, longer and wider than the old 120 Series, with more room inside, in a body that is significantly stronger, quieter and safer than before.

The heavily revised V6 petrol’s fuel consumption drops just as its performance rises, and there are a lot more luxury items available.

However, traditionalists need not fear, for all of the Prado’s basic running gear returns as before, adapted again in a separate chassis configuration sporting struts up front, a live rear axle and low-range gearing. Today’s car is still wonderful off-road and now better on it.

If Toyota for you means Prado, then Priuses can explode in lesbian seal colonies for all you care.

The latest Prado, however, weighs more, loses its unique eight-seater capability (although all wagons bar the base GX accommodate seven), and the diesel that will account for 80 per cent of sales is the same old engine from before except now it has to work harder to haul a heftier SUV around.

And, in the $60,990 GXL five-door wagon with the six-speed manual gearbox as tested, the price rises by almost $4000, while the $2500 auto is just $5000 shy of the Land Rover Discovery 4 TDV6 S auto diesel ...

Frankly, we would pick the Prado if long-term ownership and reliability were factors when buying the most capable and dependable seven-seater off-roader for the money. With its lockable centre Torsen limited slip differential, low-ratio gearbox, short overhangs, 220mm ground clearance and heavy-duty suspension articulation, this Toyota is king.

However, if on-road commuting duties outweigh go-anywhere toughness the GXL petrol’s appeal starts to pale.

The 202kW/381Nm 4.0-litre V6 is 23kW more powerful and boasts 9Nm more torque than before, but at almost 2.3 tonnes, the Prado is nearly 200kg heavier than the old stager.

So while the midsized SUV is quiet at tickover and smooth at low speeds, the engine needes to be revved to get some meaningful momentum. Then it just sounds loud and coarse, and you can wave that 13L/100km combined fuel consumption figure goodbye. We struggled to keep the Prado below 15.

On the move, though, the petrol V6 has enough grunt to keep the Toyota rolling along nicely, settling down into a quiet rhythm in the overdrive sixth gear. It is cruising along on the open road that this powertrain seems to make most sense.

But the gearshift is springy, heavy and slow. Add a sudden clutch and the manual around town is simply a chore.

On the other hand, the Prado’s steering is impressively responsive and well weighted, allowing the driver to handle and control the big SUV with surprising ease. The electronic driving aid things here, since they help keep the Toyota steady, as do the admirably forceful brakes.

But sooner or later it will lull you into forgetting just how vast this vehicle is – like when you try and change direction quickly or attempt to slow down through a tightening corner – here the Prado lurches and sways like a tipsy basketballer, accompanied by squealing tyres and lots of body roll. The rubber must actually do a great job gripping the road but even these cannot contain the laws of physics.

Similarly, U-turn manoeuvres require lots of room in regular 2WD mode and a little bit more when the on-the-fly 4x4 gear is engaged, so inner city lane exploring is probably out of the question.

A lumpy ride was certainly unexpected though. Large bumps are smothered and the Toyota is terrific at traversing speed humps and such, but the suspension feels busy and unsettled on regular bitumen and you’re always aware of the less than smooth surfaces going on below.

Overall then, in this day and age, the Prado is still too ponderous as a town-only conveyance. Only if you’re coming from an older generation ladder-frame 4x4s like a Nissan Patrol would it feel dynamically deft.

So the Toyota is still a truck after all, just as its Tonka toy styling states. The oversized headlights and toothy grille give the Prado a goofy look while the tail-lights are like sucked lollies stuck on to the rear pillars. Pretty it ain’t.

Getting in requires climbing skills for some, since the doors are weighty and the seats perched high. Yet Toyota has done a fine job making the cabin an almost luxurious experience.

In shape, the dashboard architecture is pseudo Discovery, except that shiny plastics of varying shades of brown take the place of the wood and leather trim found in the British machine.

But while this centralised console tower has an imposing chunkiness, it is well designed, with an excellent ventilation system dividing the upper section (trip computer screen and air outlets) and lower console part, which houses the audio and low-gearing switches.

The driver sits in flat but (for us) comfortable seats, ahead of a beautifully simple and elegant instrumentation pack. The steering wheel is a delight to hold as well as behold, thanks to it being a decent size, good to grip and nicely presented.

Nobody should struggle to find the perfect driving position, as both the seat and steering column adjust in two directions. We would struggle to think of a rival with more storage bin capacity.

And, moving to the centre row, that luxury feeling continues.

The 70-30 split-fold bench reclines, slides and tilts forward to allow for rear-bench access. As with the front seat area, there are handles built into the pillars for people to hoist themselves in.

In GXL spec, each outboard occupant (that makes six in total) enjoys face-level ventilation, with the centre-row ones also having the option of temperature control and directional flow, while the centre-middle person – perched a little bit higher than the others but with more shoulder space than in previous Prados – can easily feel the breeze coming from the oversized dash outlets.

The seats themselves are also quite flat but comfortable enough, and are finished in an attractive fabric. A padded centre armrest comes with cupholders to supplement the door bin items. And we have never been in a car with more grab handles – besides the aforementioned pillar ones there are overhead and elbow-level bars for nervous centre-row passengers to grab on to.

Seatback map pockets, windows that drop all the way down, a 12V outlet and child anchorage facilities just below each headrest are further middle-seat plus points, but taller adults must adopt a sort of knees-up seating position, which might become wearisome after a few hours.

Entry into the rearmost bench is really a kids-only excursion, but at least Toyota bothers to put the single portion of the centre bench on the kerbside – not all imported vehicles are like that.

Sat between the rear wheel arches over the back axle, this is not a very pleasant place for adults – although at least the seats up front slide forward to maximise third-row knee room if necessary.

But the cushion is small even if the also-tiny backrest’s head restraints do rise up from their flush-mounted housings to meet most hairdos, and there is a fair amount of road noise intrusion as well as body pitching for people to deal with. At least Toyota fits cupholders, the aforementioned air vents, reading lights and curtain airbags that reach all the way back there.

To erect the third row seats is ingeniously simple, requiring a one-step backrest raise and the pulling out and up of a cantilevered cushion. It’s super easy to do.

We suspect most owners would be better off lowering the third-row seats into the floor, to maximise the large cargo area accessed via a side-swinging tailgate.

With all bar the front seats folded, the floor is flat but rises up on an angle, so there isn’t perhaps the amount of load space you might have suspected in a vehicle this size. Plus, where does the rear parcel shelf live when all the rear seats are folded down?

There is a proper household-appliance ready 100W/AC220V outlet, along with luggage tie-down hooks and a door handle for people to be able to exit out through the tailgate (and a helpful rubberized step to help with the egress), while a locking mechanism is fitted to the big door strut to keep it from slamming shut on an incline or in a strong wind.

As with all Prados in the past, the rear wheel lives on the tailgate, to tell the world you’re an off-road rebel/traditionalist.

Which, in a way, sums up this surprisingly old-fashioned mid-sized SUV perfectly.

Toyota already offers a smooth, refined and affordable car-based seven-seater crossover in the (albeit rather mediocre) Kluger, so we should be glad that the latest Prado has lost none of the incredible off-road abilities of its predecessors. Toughness and reliability are everything in 4x4 land and this delivers in spades.

And, yes, the thoughtfully laid out and presented cabin, responsive steering, well-sorted driver aids and feeling of invincibility all make today’s generation an advance over bygone Prados.

So if you need Tarzan abilities as well as somebody who will occasionally wear a suit, the Prado can now do that too. But it’s happiest in the wild.

Toyota might have its plate full dealing with recalls and lawsuits and a barrage of negative media coverage, but for fans out in Prado land the skies are just that little bit brighter because this car is essentially the same as before – only better. And that’s one less thing for the company to worry about.

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